“It’s May, it’s May, that gorgeous holiday!” It is time to consider travels as spring deepens and summer approaches. May we suggest Pennsylvania Dutch Country, for a journey to a quaint, long ago past?
We refer not to a visit to Amish farms and country markets, but rather to a sally forth into the medieval past of Camelot, currently playing at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, as “it’s May, it’s May,” according to one of the songs of this famed Lerner and Loewe musical.
“Camelot,” directed here superbly by Dean Sobon, is a tale of knights of old, of that “once and future king” Arthur of Britain. The musical begins brightly as a nervous, and an unexpectedly callow Arthur meets and marries the charming Guenevere.
She inspires him to create a “Round Table” of knights who discard the old maxim of “might makes right” in favor of “might for right.” The French knight Lancelot du Lac comes calling when he hears of Arthur’s renowned and idealistic knightly program.
Yet, Lancelot’s fanaticism for chivalry and purity of character wins him few friends at the court of Camelot. Indeed, Queen Guenevere urges on the three best English knights to challenge Lancelot, but our French cavalier routs them all. When Lancelot vanquishes and miraculously revives his last challenger, who has supposedly been mortally wounded, he wins the heart of Guenevere. Thus begins a love triangle between Guenevere, Lancelot and Arthur. Things become even more complicated when Mordred, Arthur’s resentful, foppish and illegitimate son, enters the picture.
Washington-area theatergoers may remember that the Shakespeare Theatre Company performed “Camelot” last year at the Sidney Harman Hall.
While that minimalist production may have been more artistic, this one is more colorful and fun!
A case in point: the bright costumes and tents as well as the stately marble columns on the Dutch Apple stage transgress styles between the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Classical and Baroque eras, and much of this is anachronistic.
“Camelot” is intended to be high entertainment, not a scholarly historical record of the Middle Ages, and in terms of springtime diversion, this production with its beautiful sets succeeds admirably.
The cast at Dutch Apple’s production is outstanding, with Benjamin Neumayer projecting King Arthur at first with youth and energy and then transitioning believably to Arthur’s growing sense of maturity, responsibility and kingship.
Catherine Calloway is the standout in terms of singing, with her operatic-style voice shining forth beautifully in such numbers as the previously mentioned seasonal song in which she sings of going “a-Maying.”
Dale Given brings out the humor of the play with his fine comic acting in two roles, imbuing both Merlyn the magician as well as the aged King Pellinore with great personality.
Lancelot is portrayed with verve by Thomas Henke, who provides us with a moving rendition of “If Ever I Would Leave You,” the break-out hit of the show, though audience members who have seen “Camelot” before may miss the sweeping strings and crescendo of a full orchestra behind him. Having said that, the orchestra of five musicians conducted by J.P. Meyer gives an amazingly full rendering of the score, and the small-band approach actually brings out the folk-music quality of such pieces as “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” more than a full orchestra would.
The only regrets regarding this highly entertaining production are some musical deletions: one such omission is the stately overture, and another is “Then You May Take Me to the Fair,” a song which shows the flirtatious nature of Lerner and Loewe’s Guenevere like no other. Actually, a brief melodic line from this song is played by the orchestra, but we miss some of the wit of the lyrics from the song which helped to make “Camelot” justly famous:
“I swear to you (Lancelot’s) challenge will be met.
And when I have finished up the operation,
I’ll serve him to your highness en brochette!”
“You’ll pierce right through him?”
“I’ll barbeque him!”
This exchange also reflects the deliberate anachronisms which are made in the interests of furthering the humor in the musical.
None of this is to say that “Camelot” (or this production of it) is overly light without serious themes. Arthur’s speech wrestling with his love for his wife Guenevere and his friend Lancelot on the one hand and his anger at their betrayal of him on the other is delivered masterfully by Mr. Neumayer. The destruction of the perfect system of justice represented by the Round Table and the suggestion that such idealism can only survive in legends penned in the future by Sir Thomas Mallory (“Tom of Warwick”) are sad realities of life.
Still, the entertainment is light and largely upbeat, complemented by an excellent buffet at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre and its wonderful assortment of local desserts such as shoofly pie, peanut butter pie, and – of course! – Dutch apple pie. An excursion into Pennsylvania Dutch Country for the day to enjoy “Camelot,” a fun buffet and regional desserts are recommended this “lovely month of May when everyone goes blissfully astray.”
The address of Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre is 510 Centerville Road, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The theatre’s website may be accessed at dutchapple.com. “Camelot” runs through June 22.